Brand 'kidfluencers' at risk of sexual exploitation
Online shopping giant SHEIN has been found in breach of the advertising Code of Ethics for a sexualised Instagram Reel featuring a 14 year old girl. The video post which showed the girl posing in a black cut-out dress (listed as 'Cut-Out PU Dress With Thong' on SHEIN's website) tagged the company's official Instagram pages and included a discount code for use by other SHEIN shoppers.
14 year old girl's 'sexualised' SHEIN promo. Source: Instagram
The recorded ad violation is the second in recent months for the online retailer which routinely objectifies women in its promo pics.
Promo images for 'Cut-Out PU Dress With Thong', shein.com
From the complaint:
The video is highly sexualised, featuring a young teen dressed in porn-inspired adult wear. She is filmed running her hands up her thighs, front and breasts. It is reprehensible for Shein to use kidfluencers like this young teen girl to promote its products.
According to the complainant, the Reel had been viewed over 13,000 times and received engagement from other accounts where young and pre-teen girls were sexualised.
'No control', claims SHEIN
SHEIN responded to the complaint to say it did not
- sponsor the ad
- ask for the post to be created
- provide the clothing which was worn
SHEIN claimed ignorance regarding the girl's age, and alluded to the sexualised nature of her other Instagram content:
We do not know the influencer's age but she does not appear to be 14 years old, as you contend. We also draw your attention to her other posts, all of which appear to be similarly revealing.
Despite the girl wearing their product, tagging the company and including a promotional discount code in the post, SHEIN claimed it had no control over the ad.
Ad Standards rejected SHEIN's claims:
The Panel considered that while the advertiser may not have had direct control over the individual post, it did have control over the provision of the discount code to the influencer. In this instance, once the advertiser was made aware of the post and the influencer’s age by Ad Standards, under the [User Generated Content] guidelines referred to above it had some control over the post. The Panel considered that the advertiser could have asked the influencer to remove the post, and/or could have taken away the influencer’s individual discount code. The Panel considered that the advertiser does have control over who it provides discount codes to, and the terms on which they allow this code to be shared. As such, the Panel considered that the advertiser does have a reasonable degree of control over the advertisement.
The Panel noted that the post was drawing the attention of the public in a manner designed to promote the brand, through the featuring of the dress, tagging of the brand and sharing of the discount code.
Sexualisation of minor: ad violates two sections of Code of Ethics
On review of the ad, Ad Standards determined that it 'employed sexual appeal of a minor'.
Referencing the advertising Code of Ethics Practice Notes, it noted:
Models who appear to be minors should not be used in sexual poses.
It went on to say that the ad 'amounted to a depiction of a young person which is sexualised and is therefore not appropriate'.
Finding that the ad breached the Code's sections 2.2 and 2.4, Ad Standards upheld the complaint.
SHEIN's control exposed
It turns out that SHEIN had a lot more control than it initially let on. The company responded to Ad Standards' ruling to say it had deactivated the ad's promotional code, and asked the child 'influencer' to remove the post.
SHEIN cares, and is committed to protecting minors from potential exploitation as always.
This is not the first time we've seen SHEIN connected to promo activities which sexualise young girls and put them and risk of sexual exploitation. We previously exposed SHEIN for using a 'paedophilic aesthetic' in its toddler swimwear promos, and for turning young and pre-teen girls into brand billboards by encouraging the practice of 'kidfluencing'.
If SHEIN genuinely cares about protecting children then it needs to demonstrate it.
Our calls to overhaul 'kidfluencing'
Over the past several years, we have documented the widespread sexualisation of young and pre-teen girls on social media, often in connection with irresponsible and predatory brands. See here and here for examples.
In our forthcoming submission to the Australian Association of National Advertisers Children's Advertising Code Review we are calling for urgent action to regulate how brands can engage “kidfluencers” to promote their products and services. These children are vulnerable to exploitation, with long-term effects on their health and safety. We believe corporates must work to protect children, and never be party to their sexual exploitation.
Read Ad Standard's Case Report on the SHEIN ad here.